When a Toy Dog Became a Wolf and the Moon Broke Curfew: A Memoir
by Hendrika de Vries
She Writes Press
Book review by Mark Heisey
“Being the old, dark child of the past, I was the one bound to my mother through the secret memories that everyone wanted to leave behind and forget.”
De Vries’s memoir tells of her time as a child in Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation. Her father, the traditional provider and protector, is taken to a German POW camp, and the young de Vries and her mother are suddenly left alone in an occupied city with no one to depend on but themselves. As the war goes on and the occupation lengthens, food and safety become scarce. De Vries’ mother begins to take bold steps to ensure the safety and welfare of her child. Even as suspicions run high, and neighbors report neighbors, de Vries’ mother begins associating with the resistance. She even shelters a young Jewish girl in their home, fully aware of the danger that brings to herself and her own daughter.
At just over two hundred pages, this book is a quick read with clean, clear sentences. Although much of the narrative is based on the recollections of a young girl and the stories she has been told, the memoir feels genuine with honest, flawed characters who show courage and toughness in the face of terrible circumstances. The addition of family photos and documents helps establish the historical accuracy and allows the reader to get a better sense of the men, women, and children involved. Fascinating in itself is the author’s recollection of life after the occupation is lifted, and the war is over. The exploration of the range of psychological impacts on the survivors and the difficulty of living in a post-war country without enough jobs or housing sheds light on the internal wars that can plague the survivors for years.
World War II is a subject much discussed in a variety of genres. In regard to personal narratives, Elie Wiesel’s Night and The Diary of A Young Girl by Anne Frank are classic examples. De Vries’ memoir is a welcome addition to this group. What stands out in this work is the strength of these women, the sacrifices they made, and the risks they took to protect what they held dear. The terrors of concentration camps are well-known, but less well-known is the plight of those left behind in Nazi-occupied cities. The author’s book brings Kristin Hannah’s The Nightingale to mind. Although Hannah’s book is fiction, both works bring to light the hardships faced by the women left behind and the courage these women showed to protect not only their loved ones but also their neighbors and friends and the countries in which they lived. Their sacrifices were no less significant nor less heroic than those facing the enemy on the front lines.
It often seems the domestic battles, possibly due to the psychological impact, are the last to be told after wartime. De Vries’s memoir sheds new light on this aspect of World War II and is a compelling read on its own. Ultimately, this memoir inspires and embodies the words de Vries’ mother told her: “‘ We are facing cold, dark days, but I want you never to forget this feeling of warmth and light, and I want you to know that no matter what happens, all this light and warmth will return.'”
RECOMMENDED by the US Review
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